The Least Worst Option

Posted: June 17, 2014 by Marner in Current Events
Tags: , , ,

Iraq is devolving into open civil warfare, with the extremist group ISIS taking over cities and threatening to push into Baghdad. A number of things brought it to this point, including the “De-Ba’athification” instituted by the Coalition Provisional Authority in 2003, the readiness level of the Iraqi military, and the utter failure and corruption of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. We are left with an Iraqi state that is no state at all. There is no sense of nationalism among the populace, who define themselves as Sunni, Shi’a, or Kurd rather than as Iraqis. You can’t get people to fight for something they don’t believe in, and Iraqis don’t believe in their country or their government. Out of self-preservation, they are left having to side with the strongest actor in their region until a stronger actor comes and takes his place. Right now, that actor is ISIS, a brutal group that maintains power solely through fear and intimidation.

That leads us to the question of what do we do now? We no longer have American forces in Iraq. Contrary to the lies of John McCain and other conservatives who want to pin the blame on Obama, it was al-Malaki’s decision for all of our troops to leave. He refused to sign a Standard of Forces Agreement that would have exempted the US military from Iraqi laws. Al-Maliki didn’t want the US military in the way of his plan to fully purge all Sunnis from the government and solidify his relationship with Iran. In the absence of a SOFA agreement, Obama had no choice but to pull all of our military out of the country. To leave them there, subject to the whims of the Iraqi “justice” system, would have been a serious breach of his responsibilities as Commander in Chief. Can you imagine the outrage if one of our soldiers had been charged, tried, convicted, and executed by the Iraqi government?

If al-Malaki signed a SOFA agreement now, we could have US forces back in Iraq in short order, but I don’t know if that is the right move. Obama has made the right statements about us not helping without serious changes in al-Malaki’s government, but I think all we would be doing is giving him the military force he needs to gain control once again, then when we leave he’ll be back to his same old tricks. Besides, we’ve learned from 10 years of war in Iraq that you can’t just install and prop up a government and hope the people will follow.

In the short term, we will probably continue to provide intelligence and we will likely engage in limited air strikes and close air support (assuming the Iraqis have any troops on the field to support), but I don’t think it will succeed. I believe that without drastic measures by the US, Iraq will eventually fall. It won’t happen overnight, because Iran will send their forces in to battle the Sunni insurgents, but it will happen. Our only hope then will be to contain the insurgents within the country’s borders. That’s the least worst option, but it just kicks the can down the road for someone else to deal with later, most likely with yet another invasion.

There may be a way to resolve Iraq once and for all, and that’s through occupation and pacification. It would be a long process and would come at great cost, but it may be the only thing that will work.

Obama should draft a new Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF) for Iraq for Congress to vote on. The AUMF would lay out the required authorizations as well as the criteria for termination.

The requirements:

  1. Activate the draft immediately for all military-age US citizens, male and female. Provide no exemptions for anything other than physical condition and conscientious objectors. Those exempted would be required to provide service for an identical period in organizations such as Peace Corps, Red Cross, Doctors without Borders, etc.
  2. Declare Iraq a hostile state and authorize the use of all means necessary to eliminate the threat.
  3. Provide the US State Department, with cooperation from the Department of Defense, the authority to create and implement a new system of government.
  4. The AUMF will remain in force until Congress has determined that all objectives have been fully achieved.

The objectives:

  1. An Iraqi government that is stable, fully functioning, and recognized as legitimate among the Iraqi people.
  2. Elimination of all terrorist and insurgent groups within the Iraqi borders.
  3. Elimination of the Iraqi populace placing ethnic identities over national identity.
  4. Iraqi populace pride and belief in their government.

This is not a 10 or even 20 year process. It will take generations to change the mindset of the Iraqi people, but I don’t believe peace is possible without that happening. It will not take 100,000 or even 500,000 US troops. It will be on the order of 1,000,000+. For the first decade or two, our military would have to function as the police, the military, and the entire government. It will take that long to raise people who can fill those positions that have more loyalty to their country than to their ethnic group and who won’t turn tail and run the first time shots are fired at them. We would have to function as benevolent dictators, completely occupying and pacifying the country. We would have to go door-to-door and disarm the entire populace to reduce the threat to our troops.

I recognize that this is an extreme step with no guarantee of success, but the strategy we’ve been following for the past few decades is doomed to certain failure. This approach would not be popular on the left or on the right and I’m sure I’ll take some arrows for even suggesting it. This approach would never happen because the political risk is too great for the President and members of Congress, but if you honestly believe that what is happening in Iraq is vital to the national security of the US, you have to be willing to do what it takes to fix the problem and that’s what I think it will take.

  1. it is really funny- what should our policy be after Iraq? How about not invade other countries. This is ridiculous. everyone predicted this problem and now 250 USA troops are going back to stabilize the region.

  2. sorry i really do not want my regular twitter account used- i think it is easy. Just let the civil war happen and let the country destroy itself. We have so many problems at home. It is really sad but Bush was an idiot. It will always come back to bite us in the ass.

    • Marner says:

      What do we do when the extremists seize control of the entire country and us it as a base to spread into Turkey, Pakistan, and Iran? Letting it go causes bigger problems down the road.

  3. meursault1942 says:

    the War Nerd has an excellent rundown of what’s happening with ISIS, pointing out that what we’re seeing is the inevitable result of our conservatives’ stupidity (the decision to invade Iraq under false pretenses and with no real plan whatsoever is easily one of the worst in American history…just astonishingly stupid):

    But we’re still talking about a conventional military force smaller than a division. That’s a real but very limited amount of combat power. What this means is that, no matter how many scare headlines you read, ISIS will never take Baghdad, let alone Shia cities to the south like Karbala. It won’t be able to dent the Kurds’ territory to the north, either. All it can do—all it has been doing, by moving into Sunni cities like Mosul and Tikrit—is to complete the partition of Iraq begun by our dear ex-president Bush in 2003. By crushing Saddam’s Sunni-led Iraq, the Americans made partition inevitable. In fact, Iraq has been partitioned ever since the invasion; it’s just been partitioned badly, into two parts instead of the natural three: the Kurdish north, and the remainder occupied by a weak sectarian Shia force going by the name of “The Iraqi Army.” The center of the country, the so-called “Sunni Triangle,” had no share in this partition and was under the inept, weak rule of the Shia army.

    By occupying the Sunni cities, ISIS has simply made a more rational partition, adding a third part, putting the Sunni Triangle back under Sunni rule. The Shia troops who fled as soon as they heard that the ISIS was on the way seem to have anticipated that the Sunni would claim their own territory someday. That’s why they fled without giving even a pretense of battle.

    Iraq always has been a false construction of a country. It seems that partitioning is the natural order of things. Absent the type of long, intense occupation you’re talking about (and which Bush should’ve done because if you’re going to do something, do it right…but he knew he couldn’t sell that to the American people, so instead he sold childish fantasies of quick, clean operations, being greeted as liberators, Iraqi oil will fund the whole thing, and lie after lie), which I am not up for, I don’t think we should be getting too involved. Thanks to conservatives, we’ve fucked that place up enough as it is.

    • mitchethekid says:

      If the are going to retain what little credibility that they have (not much) they won’t push this to far, lest their folly be exposed again.

    • Marner says:

      I’m not convinced that partition is a workable solution. Who is going to determine how resources (oil, water, etc.) get shared? Who is going to keep the peace between the partitions? What happens when Turkey invades the Kurds because they don’t want a Kurdish state on their border? I don’t think the differing sides could come to a peaceful agreement on their own. It would have to be imposed on them in the same manner as keeping the country whole would have to be imposed.

  4. rustybrown2012 says:

    I’m with Meursault on this one; extracting ourselves and limiting our role in the region is the way to go. If there’s someway to broker a divided Iraq that would (at least temporally) placate the rival factions before our exit we should try that, preferably with some international input. All diplomatic options should be explored, including talks with Iran. I’ve long felt it was bad policy to isolate Iran and foment such animus with them. The demographics of Iran trend young, secular, educated, and Western minded (relative to other Middle Eastern countries). We should be able to work with this.

    All due respect, Marner, I think your plan is not only fantastically unrealistic but headed in the wrong direction by 180 degrees. We should be finding ways to get OUT of the Middle East, not entrenched for generations to come. In case you’ve forgotten, U.S. occupation and meddling in the Middle East were Bin Laden’s main rational and motivation for 9/11. His opinion was not without merit (note I said opinion, not actions). The fact of the matter is the U.S. has done horrible things to the sovereign countries of the Middle East for decades, right up to the present, and it has not gone unnoticed. I can hardly think of a better guarantee for increased humiliation, resentment and terrorism in the Middle East than your prescription for near endless U.S. domination and occupation of sovereign and holy Islamic territory.

    • Marner says:


      I agree it is unrealistic. There is no way the public would support engaging in a war on the scale of WWII and all that entails. What I think is the only way to fully resolve the issue is not the same as what I would enjoy seeing happen.

      What I would like to see is the people who clamor for half-assed solutions (drones, air strikes) explain exactly how that is going to work in the long term. It turns into whack-a-mole where the extremists fade into the woodwork until the next time they can come out and start it all over again. I don’t think anyone honestly believes that would have any impact and they are just saying it to score political points. If they aren’t willing to go all the way, then they shouldn’t bother going at all.

      • mitchethekid says:

        Nuke ’em. Show them who’s boss. Turn the desert into a glass skating rink.

      • What I would like to see is the people who clamor for half-assed solutions (drones, air strikes) explain exactly how that is going to work in the long term.

        Oh, I have no doubts that they would explain it, but it would just be bullshit. We’ve seen that movie before. Before the Iraq war, Eric Shinseki testified before Congress that it would take “something in the order of several hundred thousand soldiers” for post-war Iraq. All of the Bush administration so-called experts shot him down. Meursault is absolutely right in saying the decision to invade Iraq under false pretenses and with no real plan whatsoever is easily one of the worst in American history.

        But as you say, Marner, that is behind us and we have to deal with today. I tend to agree with Rusty’s assessment. Your (Marner’s) plan might work if given a hundred years–that is, generations–but it is completely infeasible and unrealistic. The chances of it happened are about the same as turning the clock back to 2002 and not invading Iraq. So it isn’t a “least worst option” because it isn’t an option. What’s your next least worst option? 🙂

      • In case you need a reminder, you can go here for a recap of what the spin masters were saying in early 2003. And they won the day. People like General Shinseki, not so much.

      • Marner says:


        Containment is what I consider the least worst option. What I think is the long term solution would be much worse in terms of cost, both monetarily and with US lives. There are no good solutions.

      • rustybrown2012 says:

        I agree (Marner’s plan) is unrealistic

        It’s not only unrealistic, it’s misguided. It’s exactly the sort of paternalistic meddling that created such a hatred of the west in the first place.

        How about pulling out and leaving them alone? If someone was occupying our country, isn’t that what we would want them to do? Perhaps an official U.S. declaration of a new, non-interventionist policy towards the Middle East would start winning some hearts and minds over there, and it wouldn’t cost a dime. We could put the savings toward developing alternative energy sources. We’ll take our ball, they can have theirs.

  5. rustybrown2012 says:

    Meanwhile, remember the constant refrain from conservatives that the Obama administration was doing nothing to apprehend those behind the attacks in Benghazi? I remember Cluster specifically making this unfounded accusation many times. Well, as usual, he was pulling it straight from his ass:

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s